Go home, Galaxy
In case you didn't notice, the Los Angeles Beckhams -- sorry, Galaxy -- are making a last-ditch effort to crash the MLS playoff party. They've won three in a row, including two road victories last week over Kansas City and Columbus, both teams that are flailing for their own playoff lives.
L.A. now sits six points behind Chicago for the coveted eighth spot in the playoffs. Here's one observer who hopes they don't make it.
Full disclosure: My brother, Alexi, is the president of the Galaxy. To wit, you would think I'd be rooting for the Galaxy to make the playoffs, if only to make sure Thanksgiving dinner went off without a full-scale brawl like last year. (It had to do with Ugo Ihemelu. It was an ugly scene.)
But soccer is thicker than blood. Or something like that.
The truth is, with this year's arrival of David Beckham, the Galaxy had a golden chance to prove to the world that MLS is ready for prime time. L.A. was the vanguard of the new and improved DP'ed MLS, with high-priced celebrity players blending in with role players who, despite their relative anonymity, possess the ability and tactical awareness to compete with and against the best.
Sure, L.A. wasn't going to beat the Barcelonas and Arsenals of the world, but at least it could prove that MLS had moved beyond the deer-in-the-headlights stage of development. Right?
Well, that was the hope. Instead, the Gals melted under the glare of the "Beckham Cam." (To that point, the media, myself included at times, haven't fared much better. Ludicrous panderings like the Beckham Cam reminded me of papal visits to Brazil.)
But for the past month or so, Beckham has been out with an injured knee. (Now, he's in England caring for his ailing father. Get well soon, Becks père.) And his teammates have found their form. It hasn't been pretty, but they've gotten some good results.
Landon Donovan has started playing like Landon Donovan, Chris Klein has shown his class, and the back line -- led by youngsters Ty Harden and Mike Randolph -- has battened down the hatches and started actually playing good defense. Even goalkeeper Joe Cannon, after several howlers, has shaved his ridiculous made-for-TV whiskers and gotten back to making saves.
In other words, now that the world is no longer watching -- or, more correctly, is taking a break while Becks sits -- the Galaxy are playing well. "It's so nice to have the pressure off when David is not around," is a common refrain in the L.A. camp right now.
Those words make me cringe like when I hear someone in a Porsche miss a gear. They break my heart a little.
Because this is the new order in MLS: big names who bring big pressure. They bring klieg lights and paparazzi and reporters from far afield and silly Beckham cams. The players -- and the coaches -- have to figure out how to deal with it all. If they don't, there's always the USL.
The DPs that have come to MLS are here to make the league better. Beckham has done that. He's a fantastic player who can help L.A. when he's healthy. Cuauhtémoc Blanco has done the same thing for the Chicago Fire.
Difference is, Chicago's players haven't crumbled in the Blanco spotlight. They've stepped it up. For example, Chad Barrett has made huge leaps this season. He's having a career year, with six goals so far, benefiting from Blanco's visionary passing abilities and learning from Mexican legend how and when to make his runs.
In L.A., obviously, the Galaxy players haven't had as much on-the-field time with Beckham as the Chicago guys have had with Blanco. Heck, I'm not even sure Becks has trained with the full squad more than once. But either way, the Galaxy choked and failed to play up to their abilities and the world's expectations even when Becks was on the bench. And when I say "the Galaxy," I mean the entire club -- president to water boy. OK, maybe the water boy had his A-game going.
Now, if the Galaxy make the playoffs, I will congratulate their president, if only in the name of Thanksgiving civility. It will be a bittersweet congratulation.
Because a Beckham-less Galaxy playoff berth will only prove that MLS is not ready. That they are in over their heads with this DP stuff because the rest of the players aren't capable of rising to the occasion when the world is watching.